By Weston Payne —
The arrival of Chris Mack has given the men’s basketball team a fresh outlook heading into the 2018-19 season. Along with the new head coach, the squad is led by a pair of veteran captains: graduate transfer guard Christen Cunningham and junior forward V. J. King.
“Those guys are respected by their teammates,” Mack said. “They’re every day guys. What I mean by that is they show up every day with the same type of attitude. There’s no highs and lows. They may not play well on a particular day or a particular drill, but it doesn’t affect their mentality, it doesn’t affect how they take the floor, what kind of teammate they are.”
Cunningham (6-foot-2 and 190 lbs.), previously a four-year starter at Samford University, will be relied on to facilitate the offense. Luckily, the point guard’s collegiate accomplishments already speak for his skill at the position.
“C. C. plays the game for his teammates,” Mack said. “It’s just the way of a true point guard, a guy who’s getting everybody involved and has a feel for the climate of the game and what’s happening.”
In 110 games, Cunningham became Samford’s all-time leader in assists while recording three seasons of at least 125 assists, 100 made free throws, 30 steals and double-digit scoring. With his senior season cut short due to illness, he received a medial redshirt making him eligible to play one more season for the Cardinals.
Funnily enough, Cunningham takes over the slot of starting point guard from his former AAU teammate: Quentin Snyder. Cunningham has large shoes to fill, taking over the role of captain from Snyder as well, but he should fit since both have a similar playing style.
“It means a lot to me. It shows that my teammates hold me to a high standard,” Cunningham said on being elected captain. “Each day I come to work and keep that in mind with the decisions I make.”
King (6-foot-7 and 190 lbs.) is still working to become the elite player that many hoped he would be as a five-star recruit from Akron, Ohio. His finishing abilities and defensive performance have received scrutiny since his arrival over two years ago.
That being said, many look for the forward to shoulder Louisville’s offense this season as a versatile scorer. The only attribute King has lacked thus far is consistency, so this season could be make-or-break for him.
“We’re operating with a smaller team and we need to be able to creatively find ways to get closer to the basket, not just rely on true five’s,” Mack said. “I’d like to use V. J.’s size. We want him to be physical and not play pretty all the time.”
V. J. is the lone returning starter from David Padgett’s stint as interim coach in 2017-18. Along with fellow juniors Ryan McMahon and Dwayne Sutton, he’s one of the three student-athletes who played under Rick Pitino. Look for King to use his experience to the advantage of all his teammates.
“My experience overall is going to help me with the new guys,” King said. “Show them the ropes and show them what we’re all about.”
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Photo by Taris Smith / The Louisville Cardinal